No Small Potatoes: Val From a Kids-eye View

This week, The Student gets a new perspective on Val by talking with Maya (7) and Asher (12), the children of two Amherst history professors who frequent the dining hall for meals with their parents.

No Small Potatoes: Val From a Kids-eye View
Maya and Asher’s favorite Val station is the pizza bar. Graphic courtesy of Nina Aagaard '26.

Valentine Dining Hall is a staple of Amherst students’ lives, but we’re not the only ones enjoying meals there. Often, I’ll look to my left or right expecting to see a college student, and am instead greeted by a much younger face. These Val kids, as I’ve taken to calling them, are almost always the children of professors who teach at the college. This week, Maya (7) and Asher (12) told me about Val from a new angle. Literally. Special thanks to the two of them for their humor and thoughtfulness, and to their equally wonderful parents, Associate Professor of History Vanessa Walker and Associate Professor and Chair of History Adi Gordon, for facilitating this interview. It has been slightly edited for length and clarity.

Eleanor Walsh ’25: Maya and Asher, it’s so nice to meet you guys. Will you remind me how old you are before we get started?

Maya: Seven.

Asher: And I am 12.

Eleanor: OK! I’m 20. So, I think your parents filled you in, but I wanted to ask you both some questions about eating at our dining hall, Val. I want to hear what you both think about it, because I think it might be a little different than how students [at the college] view Val. How often do you guys come to the dining hall?

Asher: Not that often, but —

Maya: It’s a special treat.

Vanessa Walker: Usually once every two weeks, I would say, is that right?

Asher: Ish.

Eleanor: And how do you guys feel when you go to the dining hall?

Maya: I feel, like, super excited.

Asher: Usually I’m happy. Free food, you know.

Eleanor: Totally. And when you go there, do you usually have dinner, or do you have other meals?

Maya: Usually we have dinner.

Asher: I’ve been once for breakfast, and a few times for lunch, but mostly dinner.

Eleanor: When you guys go to Val, do your parents pick out your food for you?

Maya: We get to pick out our own food.

Eleanor: You do? OK, what stations do you guys go to?

Maya: We usually always go to the pizza.

Asher: Yeah. It’s our first stop. We get in, we get plates, we go pizza!

Maya: It’s the number one. But I always, I usually get Lucky Charms, unless my parents say, “If you want dessert you can’t eat Lucky Charms.” That’s what they say.

Eleanor: That sounds like a pretty fair deal. What’s your favorite kind of pizza to get?

Maya: Oh… I just eat normal — like, cheese — pizza. Because the other kinds I don’t really like.

Asher: I like barbecue chicken when they have it.

Eleanor: Oh yeah, that’s a special treat when they have it. And where do you guys like to sit once you have your food?

Maya: Well, I prefer one of those that has cushions on the backs of chairs ’cause they’re better for my back. My back is like “ouchie, ouchie!” when they don’t get one of those.

Asher: Wherever’s open, I guess.

Eleanor: Yeah, it’s usually pretty busy in there, at least for me. Do you guys feel like it’s busy when you go in? Or is it a little less —

Maya: Yes.

Asher: Sometimes it’s not busy, but I remember one time I was waiting in a line for maybe 10 minutes for a burger.

Eleanor: Yeah, and then you start to ask, is it worth it for this burger?

Asher: And then I decide, yes, it’s worth it.

Eleanor. Exactly. Do you guys have something you’ve eaten at Val that you didn’t like?

Asher: I think their cottage cheese isn’t the best.

Eleanor: I think that’s fair. I don’t think I’ve ever tried it, so I’m going to trust your judgment, Asher. What do you guys usually get to drink when you go?

Maya: I usually used to mix bubbly water and lemonade. Or was it apple juice? Or was it orange juice? I don’t remember. It was one of the fruit juices.

Asher: It depends what my mom lets us have. [Vanessa laughs]

Maya: Yeah, but when I get lucky I usually go for the — [incoherent]

Vanessa: Yeah, I just don’t let you mix, like, lemonade and milk together.

Eleanor: You’re a tyrant!

Vanessa: I am, I am.

Eleanor: When you guys are in Val, is there anything that you find weird or funny or unusual?

Asher: Not really.

Maya: Well, one thing I find funny about Val is the big boat that drapes over. I think it’s very weird.

Eleanor: You know what, Maya, I do too. I sometimes sit under it and I keep looking up at it the whole time.

Maya: That’s happened to me.

Eleanor: Do you guys usually sit in that boat room, or do you sit somewhere else?

Asher: Usually in the boat room I think.

Maya: But when we get unlucky we have to sit in the laundry, or the place next to the TV.

Eleanor: If you’re unlucky you have to sit in the laundry?

Maya: Like the tall chairs.

Eleanor: Oh yes, the high tables. OK, when you’re in Val, what kinds of people do you see?

Maya: Well sometimes Parker, who’s our neighbor.

Asher: Sometimes we bring our friends and have dinner with them, but often it’s just our family.

Eleanor: And what about the people who you’re not eating with but you see around Val, like the students or the people who work at the college — do you ever talk to them?

Maya: Mostly no.

Asher: Mostly no.

Vanessa: Maya, you talk to them sometimes, right?

Maya: But not usually.

Eleanor: Do you guys like to get dessert when you’re there? What’s your favorite dessert?

Asher: I usually get whatever dessert they have out. Sometimes I get ice cream if I don’t like it.

Maya: [giggling to Asher] Stop tickling my armpit.

Eleanor: Do you guys ever go upstairs or do you always stay downstairs?

Asher: For the most part, downstairs.

Maya: Once I went upstairs.

Eleanor: What did you think of it?

Maya: It was kinda weird because my dad kept on going downstairs and it took forever for him to come up again. So, like, literally whenever I heard footsteps coming up upstairs I’d look over and then be like,“Oh.” I was like, “Come on, come on, come on!”

Eleanor: Do you think of Val like a restaurant or more like eating at your house?

Maya: Restaurant.

Asher: Kind of a mix.

Vanessa: Maya, can I tell her what you said when we drove by there during the pandemic?

Maya: Yeah.

Vanessa: During the pandemic, obviously we couldn’t take kids into Val, so we drove past Val one day and Maya said, “Oh! I love that restaurant! Why don’t we go there anymore?!”

Eleanor: That’s so great. Do you remember how old you were when you guys first went there?

Maya: I was… three?

Vanessa: I think you were a baby, Maya, since you’ve been going there since you were born.

Maya: But, well, my first memory is…

Vanessa: Oh, first memory is very different. But we took you there when you were really little. We took you in your stroller sometimes.

Maya: My first memory was when I was 3 years old.

Asher: I have no idea.

Vanessa: Asher’s been going there since we moved here, so since he was 3 or 4.

Eleanor: Wow, that’s a long time, guys. Do you think you feel any differently about it as you’ve grown up?

Asher: I think now I kind of take it for granted.

Eleanor: I think sometimes I do that too. Well, that’s all my questions, but do you guys have anything you want to say or ask, about Val or in general?

Maya: I do.

Eleanor: OK, go for it, Maya.

Maya: I really like Val because you eat what you want. [Asher gives a thumbs up]

Eleanor: It’s so true. It’s really great. Well, thank you guys so much. I’ll say hi if I see you in Val sometime.

Asher (left) and Maya (right). Photo courtesy of Associate Professor of History Adi Gordon.